History of plastics: anecdotes and developments, from discovery to the present day
Plastic, or rather plastic materials, have pervaded our lives because they are extremely versatile and have unique characteristics. There is no aspect of our daily activities that does not involve the use of plastic: from shopping bags to washing machines, from clothes to cars, to drinks bottles. The list is endless.
But why has plastic been so successful over the years?
Let’s start at the beginning: plastic comes from the Greek “plastikos”, which means suitable for moulding.
Plastic materials are in fact fully malleable during production, and can be formed into any shape.
The history of plastic: from discovery to the 1930s
The history of plastic began between 1861 and 1862, when during his studies on cellulose nitrate Englishman Alexander Parkes isolated and patented the first semi-synthetic plastic material, which he named Parkesine (later better known as xylonite). But for plastic, the first real breakthrough came a few years later, when in 1870 the American Hyatt brothers patented the celluloid formula, with the aim of replacing expensive and rare ivory in the production of billiard balls.
The early years of the 20th century saw the emerging of other plastic materials: Bakelite, PVC and cellophane. But it was the 1930s that marked the real turning point: oil became the starting raw material for its production and processing techniques improved and were adapted to mass production, starting with moulding.
The history of plastic: the 1950s
The 1950s brought the discovery of melamine-formaldehyde resins, which made it possible to produce laminates for furniture and low-cost tableware, while synthetic fibres (polyester, nylon) became increasingly popular as modern, practical and cheaper alternatives to natural fibres. Those years were characterised by the rise of polyethylene – which was not fully established until two decades after its invention -, with a higher melting point that enabled it to be exploited for applications that before were unthinkable, and by Giulio Natta’s discovery in 1954 of isotactic polypropylene, which in 1963 won him the Nobel Prize together with the German Karl Ziegler. Polypropylene began to be produced industrially in 1957 under the brand name Moplen, revolutionising homes all over the world and becoming part of the Italian myth of the “economic boom”.
The history of plastic: from the 1960s to today
The 1960s saw the definitive establishment of plastic as an irreplaceable tool in everyday life, and as a new frontier in fashion, design and art. Plastic burst into the daily lives and the imagination of millions of people. It became a fixture in kitchens and living rooms, giving the masses access to products previously reserved for the privileged few, simplifying gestures, colouring homes, revolutionising habits established over centuries and helping to create the modern lifestyle.
Since then, the race to discover plastic materials has never stopped: the development of technopolymers, which have both thermal and mechanical resistance characteristics that are still partly unexplored, has led to strong technological growth and a continuous affirmation for increasingly sophisticated and unimaginable applications.
FITT and plastic
The entrepreneurial adventure of FITT in the world of plastic dates back to 1969, when Rinaldo Mezzalira founded Viplast, a company specialising in PVC processing, which later on became Fabbrica Italiana Tubi e Trafilati, or FITT. 53 years have passed since then, and FITT is now in its second generation led by Alessandro Mezzalira, has more than 100 registered patents, 9 production plants and almost 1000 employees. Its products are exported to 90 countries worldwide and are used in the domestic, industrial, professional and construction sectors.
Continuous research into innovative materials has led to the creation of products that have revolutionised the markets and set new quality standards: such as the NTS technology, which prevents the formation of kinks and knots, the patented Chlorine Defence System (CDS) for swimming pool hoses, Acua, the first phthalate-free hose with FCU (Food Contact Use) patent, Native, the first PVC-free hose, the FITT Bluforce system made from PVC-A, FITT Force, the compact and lightweight garden hose that brings together two separate technologies, NTS and HD Tech.And many more.
It’s on the study of transformation processes, material research and the development of new technopolymers, both at its own laboratories and in partnership with research centres and universities, that FITT bases its business strategy, with the aim of finding innovative solutions capable of meeting the environmental challenges of today and the future.
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